Weeks after the death of Otto Warmbier in a North Korea labor camp, the U.S. Department of State announced it would ban American citizens from traveling to the Hermit Kingdom.
Citing the purportedly ‘high risk of arrest’ as the basis for the decision, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized a ‘Geographical Travel Restriction’ on all American passport holders.
The restriction prevents citizens from using their U.S. passports to travel to North Korea, effectively rendering them invalid for visiting the isolated dictatorship.
“Once in effect, U.S. passports will be invalid for travel to, through and in North Korea, and individuals will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
The move became a necessity due to what Nauert described as “mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”
Reuters reports that, although an announcement has been made, the restriction won’t take effect for another month.
The State Department plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register next week. Once an announcement is made in the Register, a 30-day countdown begins, after which Americans will be unable to travel to North Korea without compelling reason.
Nauert clarified that citizens could still visit the Hermit Kingdom “for certain limited humanitarian or other purposes,” but said they’d have to apply for a special class of passport to do so.
Many media outlets, including Reuters and CNN, tied the State Department’s decision to Warmbier’s highly publicized arrest, trial, and eventual death.
The 22-year old student was detained by North Korean police after he was caught stealing a propaganda poster from the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in the nation’s capital.
Warmbier was subsequently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but was released back to his family in June, albeit seriously ill and in a coma.
Within days of his return to the United States, Warmbier died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Only several thousand tourists visit North Korea annually, with virtually every Western visitor required to participate in a group tour.
On expeditions around Pyongyang and the countryside, tourists are shown sights and introduced to people who might paint an unrealistically positive picture of North Korea’s prosperity.
Such tours are controversial because a certain amount of the proceeds from each goes directly to the North Korean state.
Hundreds of Americans have participated in tours in the Hermit Kingdom over the course of the past decade. Several, including Warmbier, have been detained and used as bargaining chips by Kim Jong-Un and his father and predecessor, Kim Jong-Il.